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Remarks at the Fourth Committee, Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun

31 Oct 2017 - 16:56

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the pleasure to address the Fourth Committee on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Feltman and introduce the Secretary-General’s latest report on “Overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions”, requested by the General Assembly in resolution 71/100. USG Feltman regrets that his schedule did not allow him to be here today.

Let me express DPA’s appreciation to the delegations of Finland and Mexico for their continued leadership on this agenda item, and their close cooperation with the Secretariat.


Mr. Chairman,

The current debate is the fifth the General Assembly has held on special political missions. The debate is a critical part of the ongoing discussion between Member States and the Secretariat on the key role played by special political missions in promoting international peace and security, as well as on the challenges they face in implementing their mandates safely and effectively, and the actions that need to be  taken to strengthen and support them.

This debate, and the Secretary-General’s report submitted in advance of it, provides an opportunity to discuss the various policy issues reflected in GA resolution 71/100, as well as the priorities and concerns voiced by Member States in May this year during the annual interactive dialogue on special political missions.

Since USG Feltman briefed the Fourth Committee on the SPM agenda item last year, the global operating environment has continued to face uncertainty, volatility and rapid transformation. Today’s conflicts are enormously diverse in nature, involving competition over state institutions, natural resources, and territory. The regionalization of the causes and consequences of conflict adds layers of complexity to our efforts to resolve them, as has been the case with respect to Syria, Libya and Yemen, to name but a few. Within some conflicts, we have seen the rise of political narratives and actors such as ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram that reject the modern conception of the state.

Against this backdrop, special political missions continue to play a wide variety of peace and security functions, demonstrating their versatility and flexibility. At national and regional levels, SPMs have played vital roles in advancing political transitions; in supporting governance, strengthening institutions and enabling democratic processes; and in identifying early risks and crafting effective preventive responses.

The report of the Secretary-General details a wide variety of developments for SPMs, from the completion of the initial mandate in Colombia, where the mission supported the remarkable progress made by the Government and the FARC-EP towards the implementation of their peace agreement, and the establishment of the follow-up Verification Mission; to the expansion of the mandates of several panels of experts; to the strategic assessments and subsequent adjustments to the missions in Libya and Somalia.

It also addresses a number of policy issues that arise from, or are made more urgent by, these trends in the mandates and operating environments of SPMs. Many of these issues were also raised by Member States during the interactive dialogue in May. Let me highlight four such issues.

The first is the effectiveness of SPMs in preventing conflict and sustaining peace. The Secretary-General has called for a reorientation of the work of the Organization around a universal agenda for prevention. This has injected renewed energy into our efforts to strengthen the efforts of the UN to prevent conflict, as conceptualized in the Sustaining Peace resolutions, which call for a focus on “preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence” of conflict.

With their diverse mandates and operational orientations, special political missions are a critical part of any effort to strengthen the Organization’s work on conflict prevention. The integration of a broad range of disciplines into the work of SPMs, including DDR, SSR, human rights and institutional capacity development, serves as a strong example of the three pillars of the Organization working effectively as one in support of prevention. The research conducted by panels of experts provides an invaluable source of information to the Security Council that underpins the effectiveness of sanctions regimes as a key preventive tool.

The recommendations of the High-level Panel on Peace Operations and the Advisory Group of Experts on the Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture provided a detailed technical agenda for increasing the effectiveness of SPMs, while the recent announcement by the Secretary-General of a surge in preventive diplomacy and the establishment of a High-level Advisory Board on Mediation have put new wind in their sails.

A second important policy area is the strengthening of partnerships between SPMs and regional and sub-regional organizations, another priority for the Secretary-General. The case for close collaboration between SPMs and regional organizations on early warning and analysis, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution has been thoroughly and convincingly made. We must now work to strengthen our links to these organizations and find innovative ways to collaborate, based on the principles of transparency, mutual accountability and comparative advantage.

Over the past year we have taken major strides forward in the relationship between the African Union and the United Nations on peace and security cooperation, guided by decisions of the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council. The signing this April of the Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security, in particular, provides a strengthened basis for collaboration and technical exchange. We are also enhancing our collaboration with other regional organizations including the European Union, OSCE and League of Arab States. At the sub-regional level, our regional offices have made significant progress in building operational relationships with their counterparts.

A third area of focus is the Women Peace and Security Agenda, where DPA’s efforts to deploy more gender expertise to special political missions has met with some success. The impact of these capacities on the work of the missions is tangible, with evidence of a gender-disaggregated approach to planning, executing and monitoring of the implementation of SPM mandates reflected in reports to the Security Council. DPA will continue to provide targeted support to help missions foster the roles of women in mediation and peacemaking efforts and to encourage women’s increased political participation.

With respect to the fourth area of focus, as the focal point for electoral assistance, DPA has continued to respond to requests for support to electoral processes, including through SPMs. Increasingly, such support is targeted at medium-to-long term objectives of increasing the capacities of electoral bodies and addressing structural challenges that affect the success and credibility of electoral processes. A critical element of sustaining peace and preventing conflict over the long term, electoral support delivered by SPMs will need to continue to evolve to respond effectively to such demand.


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,

In addition to these four key areas, the Secretary-General’s report addresses our ongoing efforts to improve geographical distribution and gender representation in SPMs as well as to advance transparency, accountability and efficiency in the execution of our mandates. In particular, the report highlights the continued efforts that the Secretariat has made in ensuring that our missions are broadly representative of the United Nations membership.

While some progress has been made to improve the representation of women in SPMs, progress is far too slow and will need to be accelerated to meet the Secretary-General’s goals for achieving gender parity across the Organization. Improving both the geographic distribution and representation of women in SPMs will continue to be priorities that DPA and its leadership take very seriously. The report also addresses in some detail the safety and security challenges faced by special political missions in an ever-more volatile global environment, and highlights some of the impediments to mandate implementation that missions operating in difficult security environments face.

The real and serious nature of the security threats UN personnel face every day was laid bare in March 2017 with the murder of two members of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as of the four Congolese citizens accompanying them, who were killed while researching arms trafficking, armed group activity, and human rights abuses in the DRC. We pay tribute to the two brave young professionals, as well as their Congolese aides, and to all personnel of SPMs who similarly put their safety on the line to implement Security Council mandates.


Mr. Chairman,

We look forward to the consideration by the governing bodies of the various reform proposals put forward by the Secretary-General over the last few months. While Member States deliberate on the reforms, special political missions will continue to play a critical role in the UN peace and security toolkit. It is therefore vital that we retain a sharp focus on SPMs and the conditions required for their success, including international and regional political backing, relationships and entry points, and effective backstopping and support. We appreciate the support Member States have continued to demonstrate to this crucial tool, both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council.

We will continue to work closely with the Fourth Committee to take stock of the progress achieved and challenges faced by special political missions, and seek your guidance and advice on the way forward.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman